A long drawn battle took place between the British East India Company and the Marathas under Nana Phadnavis in the monsoon of 1780 for the control of Malanggad , also known as Haji Malang – famous for an old dargah of that name which is situated on the hill . It is a prominent landmark near Kalyan , where an ’urs ‘ for the dargah takes place annually .
Reasons for conflict :
As of 1780 , the primary concern of the British was to secure and fortify the Island of Mumbai , their base in this part of India . Hence , apart from forts in South Mumbai and what are today its suburbs – Sion , Mahim etc , they also wanted to secure the routes leading into the city . Bor Ghat and Kasur Ghat to name a couple . The whole aim was to cut off all routes to Mumbai from Pune , where Nana Phadnavis resided with considerable forces at his disposal . But by blocking the ghats and capturing the heights , the British wanted to neutralise any future Maratha plans of retaking Mumbai . The town of Kalyan was situated at a most opportune location . Having been a town right from Chhatrapati Shivaji’s times , it had major routes from both Pune – Khopoli as well as the north ( Kasara Ghat ) passing through it . The fort of Malanggad was situated right next to Kalyan , and commanded an excellent view of the region . The British aimed to capture this fort and then turn their attention to Vasai . With the routes leading to Mumbai from Pune blockaded and watched over , and little help expected from Gujarat , the capture of Vasai would make the ‘ring ‘ around Mumbai complete .
British moves :
Capt. Campbell captured Parsik hill the 12th of April , 1780 . The next day , that is on 13th April 1780 , the town and fort of Panvel was taken by Capt Lendrum . This being an important Maratha outpost , the British wanted to nip any help which may reach Kalyan by the Panvel- Taloja – Kalyan road in the bud itself . The fort of Belapur also fell to the British on the same day . From here , Capt Lendrum moved to Taloja and forced the Maratha chowkie established at the place to retreat to Kalyan . Kalyan was beseiged towards the end of April by Capt Campbell . Continuous bombarding for over five hours finally caused the fort to crumble . The arrival of another senior officer , Capt Hartley , aided in the British capture of Kalyan . With Panvel and Kalyan taken and the roads secured , the British turned their attention to Malanggad .
Belapur – Taloja – Malanggad
The Malanggad Fort :
This fort , situated near Kalyan consists of two machis and a balekilla . The hill stands rather isolated , and one can see for miles upon miles for end from its summit . I have myself trekked to it’s summit and have spotted the Mumbai – Pune Expressway from there . Without any binoculars . On the other side , the whole of the Ambernath and Ulhasnagar area can be seen . On the third side are Tavli and other such hills which were never full fledged forts . Infact , the summits of these nearby hills are nearly impossible to reach . Thus , the strategic value as well as natural defenses of the fort become readily evident .
Old British painting ( 1800 ) showing Malanggad
Old British painting ( 1800 ) showing Malanggad
The Marathas and British :
When Kalyan fell , Malanggad was under the control of one Pandurang Sambhaji Ketkar . The British did not immediately move towards the fort in the hot months of May and June , but instead decided on August to attack . Since the time of Shivaji , the monsoons had been taken as a time when warfare came to a stalemate in the hills and forests of the Sahyadris . What with the torrential rain making moving on the slushy ground extremely difficult and the dense fog making it impossible to sight anything . So , even in 1780 , not expecting much action , some of the garrison from Malanggad had been granted leave . On the 4th of August 1780 , Abbington attacked the fort and although Pandurang Ketkar fought bravely , managed to capture Pir Machi . This is the Machi on which the dargah is situated . Ketkar retreated to the other machi – Sone machi and decided to make a stand over there . Since the machi was not stocked with enough grain for all three hundred , upto 175 soldiers left the fort and made their way to Gangadhar Karlekar , the mamlatdar of Kalyan . Pandurang Ketkar continued to fight Abbington with his hundred odd troops and a few months of food supply .
Pune reacts :
Nana Phadnavis , realising the gravity of the situation , decided to send Gangadhar Karlekar , Kashipant and Anandrao Dhulap to aid Pandurang Ketkar .They reached Neral , near today’s hill station of Matheran . From here unfortunately , the next fortnight was spent in indecision , with the result that it was as late as 28th of August that they finally managed to reach a village called Kharawai near the fort . Abbington now tried to capture Sone machi and the bale killa by one spectacular attack on it , but failed in doing so . Pandurang Ketkar and his gardi musketeers were equal to the task . Not only did they manage to beat back the British assault , but even forced their cannons to retreat from Pir machi .The British grip on the lower ranges of the fort weakened , and Gangadhar Karlekar was able to send some much needed supplies and provisions to Ketkar . Nana Phadnavis , sensing that Gangadhar Karlekar was making little headway , now sent Balaji Phatak and Ragho Godbole to lift the siege . The two reached Shiravali in the first week of September and were joined by the others – i.e Karlekar , Dhulap and Kashipant . Turn by turn , the contingents of Anandrao Dhulap , Karlekar and Godbole attacked the British on Pir Machi , while Phatak supported them from their camp below and Pandurang Ketkar from the machi above . The Marathas managed to bring their cannon to Pir Machi and bombard the British positions . Considerable damage was caused to Abbington , but in the absence of a concentrated Maratha attack , they managed to hold fort . Finally , the 18th of September was chosen as the day when a combined attack would be mounted on the British . And in all probability , this would have meant the end of the British siege , but nature had other plans in mind .
A reprieve for the British & a British counter attack :
On the 18th , it rained cats and dogs at Malanggad , making any warfare impossible . The entire region was shrouded in dense fog which made even the fort itself appear just like a ghostly blur . The planned attack had to be put off for obvious reasons . Abbington had not been sitting idle on Malanggad . He sent messages to Major Westphal at Kalyan , asking for help . Westphal responded by sending troops from Bhivandi around the 17th , which cut off the supply routes of the Marathas . Colonel Hartley started from Mumbai proper and taking the Belapur – Taloja route , reached Shiravali , the Maratha camp . Here , a fight ensued between the Marathas and Hartley and the former were driven back to the village of Vavanje . At Vavanje , the Marathas faced a two pronged attack from both Hartley and Jameson , causing them to first retreat to Panvel and then to Khopoli . Meanwhile at Malanggad : Pandurang Sambhaji Ketkar was once again left alone to fend off his attackers . The British had been weakened but not evicted . A Col Carpenter was now sent to aid the British assault on Sone machi and the bale killa . Pandurang Ketkar and his two Gardi musketeers Aziz Khan Jamadar and Abu Sheikh Jamadar held off wave after wave of British attacks in the early days of October . Even concentrated attacks were repulsed with clever use of muskets and swords . The Gardis ofcourse were expert in using the musket . All this , when their supposed reinforcement was fighting a battle in far away Khopoli . But the point being that Pandurang Ketkar held the fort .Failure to do so would have meant a direct threat to Pune in 1780 itself .
The siege lifts :
Nana Phadnavis now decided to step in himself . Free from troubles elsewhere , he moved to Khandala with Yashwantrao Panse , Bhavani Shivram and Haripant Phadke . Their plan was to take the Rajmachi route and reach Kalyan . He immediately instructed Panse and Shivram to proceed to Malanggad . Another officer was sent in the direction of Vasai . Col Hartley , with his troops fighting in various places at the same time , was had pressed to find an answer to this 10,000 strong army led by Phadnavis himself . Plus , even after two months of fighting , the citadel of Malanggad was still in Maratha hands . Hence , around November 1780 , the British lifted the siege of Malanggad .
1. The British troop movements were better planned .
2. The Marathas managed their supply lines poorly .
3. The bravery displayed by Pandurang Ketkar and his Gardi musketeers is what kept the fort from falling . It fell eventually in 1897 . 4. The Ketkar family , which attributes the 1780 success to the dargah , continues to be its caretaker .
Ref : The First Anglo Maratha War – M.R . Kantak
Battles of Honourable East India Company .
© Aneesh Gokhale .
Read more about my book ” Sahyadris to Hindukush ” – The Maratha conquest of Lahore and Attock here